What the Faculty Did to Honors


Veronica Lodge '78 took a fullyear freshman seminar during her first year here. This year, she is taking Fine Arts 13 pass-fail to fill her distribution requirements, because she is in a social science concentration, and while she wanted to learn about the masters, she wasn't sure she'd do too well.

Under the new honors standards, Veronica would have taken guts for a letter grade instead, because pass-fail now counts as much as a failing grade in honors calculations.

Despite the confusing wording, one thing is clear: under the legislation that the Faculty passed last week, Veronica couldn't afford to get anything less than a B-. She has to have a B- or above in half the courses she takes outside her departmental requirements simply to qualify for a cum, and pass-fails--which used to be considered neutral--get thrown in with failing grades.

Veronica probably won't take any more pass-fails for fear she might go over the limit.

Most of the Faculty who voted on the legislation probably didn't intend to intensify the pressure on students working toward cums and magnas. The original idea was only to cut back summas and cum laudes in General Studies (CLGS), which they did.

After this July, summa candidates need a departmental recommendation, a "very high grade-point average" outside their department, and at least an A- in a full course or two half courses in each of the areas outside the area of their discipline, rather than the three half-course A-'s outside their area they need this June.

After July 1977, candidates for the CLGS--which does not require a departmental recommendation--will need at least a B average in all their courses, where before they needed only 11 Bs or above out of 16 course grades.

But the legislation has other quirks the Faculty probably didn't understand or at least did not intend. Because the number of Bs you need for a cum goes up as you take more courses outside your department, every time you take a fifth course pass-fail you hurt your chances to graduate with honors.

A student who foolishly takes five courses for several semesters, with one of them pass-fail, and who then doesn't write a summa thesis, could have the grades for a summa and be ineligible for even a cum.

The Faculty voted this week to move the new standards up a year, so it goes into effect for next year's summas and for all other degrees for the Class of '78.

Alan E. Heimert '49, Cabot Professor of American Literature, who proposed the change, said at the meeting it won't affect anyone seriously--juniors who are working toward summas can simply take an extra semester of whatever they need, and sophomores, he said, can't tell yet what they're working toward anyway.

The vote on Heimert's amendment were close--it came in two parts, one for the summa and the other for the rest, and each section passed by less than five votes. But no one even asked the members of the Administrative Board or the Faculty Council why they had voted unanimously against it in earlier straw votes, nor did the Faculty discuss sophomores already enrolled in honors programs.

Faculty members were proposing amendments from the floor up until the last minute before the question was called, and it was clear that many of them had little understanding of the legislation's effects.

One member proposed an amendment that had been voted down at an earlier meeting; another suggested changing a clause granting summa candidates some leeway in their freshman year--a clause that has always been part of the honors rules.

But it was late, and the Faculty has been discussing the legislation for over a year, and most of them seem to have decided it was easier simply to go ahead and get it over with.

But there is some consolation for anyone who feels deprived of a chance for a summa. Many Faculty members who voted to change the standards would not, under the current legislation, be holding the summas they treasure now.